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Tiny Desk Family Hour: Gaelynn Lea

If you're going to put together the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour — an epic night of Tiny Desk-style concerts, held at the wonderful Central Presbyterian Church in Austin during SXSW Tuesday night — you might as well kick things off with a core member of the Tiny Desk Family. Gaelynn Lea won 2016's second annual Tiny Desk Contest with the barest of ingredients: a few swooping violin strokes, a loop pedal and her fragile-but-forceful voice.

At the Tiny Desk Family Hour, Lea performed in that same spare configuration. She closed with a powerful song called "I Wait," which addresses the way people with disabilities — Lea herself has brittle bone disease, and works as a motivational speaker and teacher as well as a musician — are frequently left out of social justice movements. It's Lea at her best, as her warm, intense, hauntingly beautiful voice is shot through with a clear sense of purpose.

The crowd, many of whom had stood for two hours or more as lines looped around the block, clearly got what they'd been waiting for: When Lea brought "I'll Wait" to an abrupt close, the audience's soft collective gasp gave way to the night's first standing ovation.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)